Friday, August 29, 2014

Keys to My Car

by Jay C. Stalnacker

It was probably the absolute best day I’ve ever had in fire. We had loaded up on the jump plane and headed towards the Salmon River as there was a huge dry lightning storm that had moved thru the area and numerous fires were reported. As the plane flew down canyon we looked excitedly out the windows as there were small and large white smoke plumes on both sides of the river.

As we continued we saw the McCall jump plane beginning to throw streamers and soon the first load of jumpers. We then circled around and began our own deployment. It was truly going to be a “good deal” fire for all of us. We jumped in two man “sticks”. It was my first fire jump on our forest and I was partnered with one of the senior jumpers, Robin. She was mostly silent to the rookies and generally kept out of the bars at night and seemed to be focused.

I was nervous because the terrain was steep and the jump spots were very small. One miscalculation and you could end up in the top of a tree or even worse. We were one of the last sticks out the door and by this time I was extremely airsick from the constant circling of the plane, smell of jet fuel and low altitude air currents. Soon I was hooked up and lined up right behind Robin looking down I watched her feet dangle from the door into thin air. I unexpectedly received the “go” slap on my back and Robin fell away into the blue sky and intuitively I followed. After opening my eyes I looked up as trained and confirmed my main chute was open and then within moments the steep rocky and very small jump spot was approaching. I saw Robin’s chute laying open on the ground and could hear her shout “I’m ok” as I went screaming by into the small hole between the massive trees. Soon I was safely on the ground packing my chute as Robin watched obviously frustrated with my slow effort. She quickly turned and took off up the steep mountain towards the fire. She never really said a word to me for about the first few hours as we dug line around a 5 acre fire. We soon were pulling and pushing a cross cut saw together trying to fell the large ponderosa pine that had been struck by lightning. During that struggle to find a smooth rhythm we struck up a friendship. After many hours of bucking the large tree and digging line, the fire was somewhat secured and we took a break. We spent the next three days talking while digging, chunking, cutting and mopping up the fire. It was just the two of us and we were in the middle of the Idaho wilderness.

After checking that the fire was out for the last time we began our 8 hour hike out of the wilderness and towards our pick up. I was amazed at her strength as we had dug some tough line and cross cut a lot of big trees and logs by hand. I was exhausted but she seemed to have even more energy as we began the beautiful but strenuous hike out. We walked carrying heavy loads, almost 100 pounds each. Never stopping for longer than a few moments to pick fresh berries or watch as a bear crossed the path in front of us.

By this time Robin had opened up a little more and we were telling each other stories of fire, friends and family. She was one of the few Grangeville female jumpers and coming in at a whopping 100 pounds soaking wet and under 5 feet tall kicked most everyones butt. As most outdoor woman, she had a natural beauty and sense of intuition that was impossible to ignore. Over that year we became friends and she continued to mentor me as I made foolish rookie mistakes. She will always be a friend, mentor and is truly a leader.

I’ve worked for, with and had many women work for me in my 18 years. I’ve always been amazed by the strength, courage and attitude each has displayed. As in most professions being female does have a undeserved stigma by some and in wild fire, law enforcement and public safety in general it’s sometimes even more challenging. Most successful women in our profession seem to understand this stigma and quickly learn ways to work past the egotistical men and competitive female counterparts. It’s women like Robin who have earned their place in leadership and done so thru surrounding themselves with family, faithful friends and incredible mentors. Taking the lessons learned and making adjustment and change, it’s called resiliency.

I now mentor both young men and women and am continually surprised at the quality of character and work ethic women bring to the profession. I think of the names and faces of women that have inspired me like; Sonya, Julie, Robin, Andrea, Paige, Lenora, Jenny, Pamela, Tricia Michelle, Viola, Connie, Joanne and of course my incredible wife Kim. Each has qualities I will spend my lifetime trying to acquire. Patience, commitment, understanding, passion and inner strength are all elements that make each of these women and many like them very special.

In church last year Jim talked about fatherhood and provided an analogy as he was trying to show the importance of the fathers role in a young girls life. He asked “would you give the keys to your new car to a 16 year old boy and not ask where he was going or when he was going to be back?” Of course not, so why would you let him take your young daughter out of your house without asking the same questions? The point is about how important it is for the father to be part of a young girls life. She needs to know she is loved and that she does not need acceptance for her looks or how she dresses. This foundation along with a mothers gentle hand and special touch will ensure we can raise women like Robin. We need to work early to build resilience so when the challenges happen later they have something to catch their fall.

So I encourage all of the incredible women and fathers of young girls reading this post to embrace that role of leadership. I recently witnessed an example of this mentorship. The young women who coach Aspen’s competition cheer team, organized a “sleep over” which didn’t focus on watching movies and general goofing around but rather on building character and a team. It was wonderful to watch young women mentor young girls building resilience thru teamwork, trust and encouragement. In today’s world we are surrounded by female entertainers and athletes who create a false image for women and set them up for a lifetime of seeking perfection. We need to shift this effort and like Robin and I pushing and pulling that crosscut saw, work together to put a line around our girls and keep out the unrealistic advertising and encourage and build future female leaders.

Join me and build a leader by mentoring and leading a young girl or woman and help build our future…

Reprinted with permission by Jay Stalnacker, FMO Boulder County Sheriff's Office, from his blog "The North Star Foundation." All expressions are those of the author.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Big Burn Comes to PBS

The Public Broadcasting System's American Experience will be featuring "The Big Burn"--the story of wildfires that raged across the Northern Rockies in 1910. Stay tuned for an air date.

Bonus Video:

Food for Thought - Example

"It's not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, it's what we do consistently." ~ Tony (Anthony) Robbins

"It's not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, it's what we do consistently." ~ Tony (Anthony) Robbins

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

OPM Leadership 360 Comes to Carson City

OPM assessments
(Photo credit: Office of Personnel Management)
The BLM's Carson City Division of Fire and Aviation is taking the value of integrity seriously and implementing the principle "actively listen to feedback from subordinates" into action. Nineteen fire managers, supervisors and team leads from their program will focus on leadership development through the administation of OPM's (Office of Personnel Management) Leadership 360™ assessment tool. A 360 assessment opens up participants to evaluation from those around them.

Here is what OPM says about the assessment tool:

Leadership 360™

OPM developed the OPM Leadership 360™ assessment to provide feedback to Federal supervisors, managers, and executives on the 28 OPM leadership competencies included in the Governmentwide Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs). Items on the Leadership 360™ assess behaviors needed for success in public sector organizations, helping leaders identify their strengths and developmental needs. Also included are items to identify particularly important competencies and assess overall effectiveness and impact.

Benchmarks are available based on our database of Federal leaders who have completed the assessment. Currently the Leadership 360™ database includes more than 21,000 participants who have been rated by more than 220,000 raters. The database contains participants from all leadership levels, including non-supervisors, supervisors, managers, and executives.

The Leadership 360™ covers all competencies in the OPM Leadership Competency Model.
  • Fundamental Competencies: Interpersonal Skills, Written Communication, Oral Communication, Integrity/Honesty, Continual Learning, Public Service Motivation
  • Leading Change: Creativity & Innovation, External Awareness, Flexibility, Resilience, Strategic Thinking, Vision
  • Leading People: Conflict Management, Leveraging Diversity, Developing Others, Team Building
  • Results Driven: Accountability, Customer Service, Decisiveness, Entrepreneurship, Problem Solving, Technical Credibility
  • Business Acumen: Financial Management, Human Capital Management, Technology Management
  • Building Coalitions: Partnering, Political Savvy, Influencing/Negotiating
OPM administers the assessment online, and each participant receives a detailed, confidential feedback report. Group orientation and feedback briefings help guide participants through the assessment process and results. OPM provides an aggregate report to the organization that summarizes the results for the set of leadership participants.

Additional services are also available. OPM can provide customized aggregate reports based on supervisory status and/or organization. Each participant can also receive an individual feedback session where an OPM Research Psychologist or certified coach goes through the results with the participant to help identify developmental opportunities.

Visit the OPM website for more information on OPM Leadership 360.
Thanks to the Carson City District, Nevada BLM for this From the Field for the Field submission. Contact Shane McDonald, FMO, for more information.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Food for Thought - Inner Drives

"People push themselves, when you tap their inner drives and get out of the way." ~ Dan Rockwell

"People push themselves, when you tap their inner drives and get out of the way." ~ Dan Rockwell

Friday, August 22, 2014

Swiss-Cheese Model (SCM) and Margin

Concept of MarginJames Reasons Swiss Cheese Model
Authors: Ivan Pupulidy, Director and Matt Carroll, Human Factors Specialist; USDA Forest Service Office of Learning

Comparing the Swiss Cheese Model (SCM) and Margin is not a direct “apples to apples” comparison. The SCM was introduced to the wildland fire community through the L-380 curriculum and is intended primarily, as an “ innovative framework for thinking about human error…[that] scrutinizes all levels in an organization when looking for the causes of human error” (Mission-Centered Solutions Inc., 2007, p. 55). It was designed to pinpoint the causes of an accident or error by describing the holes in defenses that, when aligned through multiple levels, create an error chain. Margin, is focused on the influence that conditions have on decisions and actions; it does not attempt to describe a linear causal relationship among conditions at various levels, rather it describes the collective influence of these conditions. The focus can then shift from cause to understanding the capacity to cope with uncertainty, error and surprise. SCM is intended to make sense of an accident after it happens, whereas margin, while it can be used in accident analysis, is designed to help users describe the potential for the system to do harm before an accident occurs.

While these differences may seem academic they are not, they have a significant effect on practical application and learning. In accident investigation for example the models we choose can influence what we look for and in turn influence what we ‘see’, or determine what is relevant to the investigation. Erik Hollnagel warns us that a model can bias the perspective of analysts when he describes the, “What –You-Look-For-Is-What-You-Find (WYLFIWYF)” principle (Lundberg, et al., 2009). This principle suggests that the model used for a review of an event will determine what you find and more importantly for us, what you fix[1]. This in turn affects what is learned and how that learning is applied to improve system performance. In light of this we should focus on how these models determine what we ‘see’ and therefore what we fix. We should ask what it is that we want to do, “Do we simply want to find and fix defenses (i.e., plugging hole, fixing/adding barriers) or do we want to find ways to increase the system’s capacity to weather error/surprise and uncertainty without consequence?”

SCM opened our eyes to the influence of upstream failures or holes in defenses, but is limited in that it is best used after the fact and it focuses on error or absence (looks for holes). By drawing an error chain you lose the ability to talk about the influence (good or bad) of other conditions throughout the system. Calling something an error, weakness, omission, failure (Mission-Centered Solutions Inc., 2007, p. 56) (Reason, 1990) artificially simplifies the nature of conditions; because every error was likely a solution to, or influenced by, something else. SCM results in plugging the detected holes in the failed barrier to avoid some downstream event. This process is designed to make systemic corrections at a managerial level (leadership adds more barriers or defenses, e.g. rules, regulations, policy, procedures or PPE). What is suggested is only part of the issue of prevention. SCM suggests the responsibility of creating safety is done up stream in the organizational leadership.

Margin opens the discussion to include the role of workers in the creation of safety. It provides a means of describing and detecting the capacity of a system by focusing on the margin available for action. After an accident conditions play a different role in the margin concept. They are intended to mapped or recognized as influences to decisions and actions. Describing these conditions places actions and decisions in context and allows us to move beyond fixes.

For an introduction to the concept of Margin, please refer to the following short video:

Works Cited
Lundberg, J., Rollenhagen, C. & Hollnagel, E., 2009. What-You-Look-For-Is-What-You-Find - The consequences of underlying accident models in eight accident investigation manuals. Safety Science, Volume 47, pp. 1297-1311.

Mission-Centered Solutions Inc., 2007. Fireline Leadership (L-380). Missoula (MT): Mission-Centered Solutions Inc..

Reason, J., 1990. The Contribution of Latent Human Failures to the Breakdown of Complex Systems. Philisophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological, 12 April, 327(1241), pp. 475-484.

[1] Based on the corollary principle of “What-You-Find-Is-What-You-Fix” (Lundberg, Rollenhagen, & Hollnagel, 2009).

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Rocky Mountain Region Bulletin - Blackwater Fire 1937
On August 21, 1937, the tragic Blackwater Fire caused the death of 15 firefighters, burning approximately 1,700 acres of Shoshone National Forest land, near Cody, Wyoming.

An electrical storm occurred in the general vicinity of Blackwater Creek on Wednesday, August 18th causing a fire, which was not detected until August 20th. At the time of detection, the fire appeared to be only 2 acres in size and was located in the drainage bottom. By the evening of Friday, August 20th, the fire had grown to approximately 200 acres and there were 58 men and 7 overhead constructing fireline in an orderly manner and with good speed. Early Saturday morning the man-power was about evenly distributed along the two main flanks of the fire. As more crews arrived and line construction advanced to the east on the hottest section of fireline, a blowup of the fire occurred at approximately 1545 caused by the combination of an undiscovered "spot" and the passage of a dry cold front. In this conflagration, 9 deaths occurred directly. Six additional men were so badly burned that death ensued, and 38 additional men suffered injuries.
Blackwater Fire 1937

Preliminary reports on this lightning fire showed that initial action was vigorous; quite remarkably so, considering the remote location of the fire and that the Shoshone National Forest was considered a low-danger forest. The forest didn't even have lookout stations. Up until 1939, the Blackwater Fire was the largest loss of life from a single national forest fire since 1910.

The Blackwater Fire was the first fatality fire to have significant investigation and study of the event done immediately after the tragedy. This analysis of the fire eventually led to the development of the smokejumper program, a management action to address the time delay problems encountered for crews responding to the fire.

In memory of
~ Alfred G. Clayton, Ranger
~ James T. Saban, Technical Foreman
~ Rex A. Hale, Jr. Assistant to the Technician
~ Paul E. Tyrrell, Jr. Forester
~ Billy Lea, Bureau of Public Roads Crewman
~ Clyde Allen
~ Roy Bevins
~ Ambrogio Garcia
~ John B Gerdes
~ Will C. Griffith
~ Mack T. Mayabb
~ George Rodgers
~ Ernest Seelke
~ Rubin Sherry William Whitlock

Honor through learning and visit the Staff Ride Library.


Food for Thought - Seeds of Hope

"Even in obstacles, a leader finds the seeds of hope." ~ Steve Gutzler

"Even in obstacles, a leader finds the seeds of hope." ~ Steve Gutzler

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Are You Providing a Circle of Safety for Your Team?

Simon Sinek's circle of safety
"When people feel safe and protected by the leadershp in the organization, the natural reaction is to trust and cooperate." ~ Simon Sinek

Video Highlights
  • Deep emotion such as compassion says volumes about a leader.
    • Watch CBS's news story about Congressional Medal of Honor Captain William Swenson and his leadership during and after the incident (future blog topic).

  • The leadership environment can give each of us the capacity to do remarkable things. 
  • "Better" people have a deep sense of trust and cooperation.
  • Trust and cooperation are feelings that are found within our circle of safety.
    • The leader sets the tone. When a leader makes a choice to put the safety and lives of the people inside the organization first, to sacrifice their comfort and sacrifice the tangible so the people remain and feel safe, remarkable things happen.
    • If the conditions are wrong, we're forced to spend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other and that in turn weakens the organization. 
  • Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank.
"Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank." ~ Simon Sinek

Monday, August 18, 2014

Food for Thought - Danger & Opportunity

"Whenever there is danger, there lurks opportunity; whenever there is opportunity, there lurks danger." ~ Earl Nightingale

"Whenever there is danger, there lurks opportunity; whenever there is opportunity, there lurks danger." ~ Earl Nightingale

Friday, August 15, 2014

Rocky Mountain National Park (CO) Students, Alpine Hotshots Form Bond Through Fire Training Program

Sayings like these are more than just words in the world of firefighting: “Punctuality shows respect,” “Train like you fight,” “Crew cohesion is important.” They are life lessons that students from an alternative residential high school in Estes Park, Colorado, learned during a five-week class on wildland fire.

Simply called “Fire!,” the program, now in its second year, linked six students from Eagle Rock school with Alpine Hotshots and ecologists from Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide Research Learning Center.

An existing relationship between the school, the park and hotshot crew sparked the idea for the “Fire!” program. An Eagle Rock student has been a member of the Alpine Hotshots for the past four fire seasons. In May 2011, Rafael Mcleod graduated before joining the team. Vidal Carrillo became a hotshot in 2012.

Carrillo continues to work on the seasonal crew while now working on his undergraduate degree at Colorado State University. This enthusiasm is part of what ignited the “Fire!” program. Ben Baldwin, ecologist at the learning center, and Prul Cerda, Alpine Hotshot superintendent, discussed opportunities with Eagle Rock School when they came up with the idea for the pilot program.

“After Vidal and Rafael’s success as members of the hotshot crew, we knew several kids were interested in wildland fire,” Cerda said. “Ben and I decided we needed to build on that, partly as an opportunity for diversity recruiting.”

Baldwin approached Eagle Rock School with the idea to develop the pilot course for citizen fire science, similar to other citizen science programs offered through the learning center. While the initial idea was to put the students through a 40-hour basic wildland fire course in order to certify them as wildland firefighters, Cerda and Baldwin quickly realized lectures were not going to be the best learning environment for these students.

“These are students who were not going to get much out of sitting in the classroom,” Cerda said. “They are used to more experiential learning through a hands-on approach. That’s also why we incorporated the physical training standards as part of the curriculum.”

This year, learning center staff member Holly Nickel used her expertise in education and curriculum development to refine and develop materials for this course.

“Four of the key principles in fire—safety, physical training, fire ecology, and fire suppression—were the goals of the new fire curriculum,” Nickel said.

Instructors challenged students to memorize and tie in the standard firefighting orders, “the 10’s” and watchout situations, “the 18’s” that incorporate safety into each daily lesson. Students also tested in the fire fit challenge, which includes running a mile and a half, and maximizing the number of pushups, sit-ups and pull-ups they can do in three minutes during their first week of class. They were tested again on the last day for the physical training aspect of the class.

Students spent time in the field with park forester Brain Verhulst to learn about tree health and park ecologist Scott Esser to learn about succession and fire’s effect on ecosystems.

Instructors and students spent many hours at the sand table, a large sandbox with props, working out scenarios and applying what they learned about fire suppression. Students also spent a day acting out a fire field scenario with Cerda and Alpine Hotshot Captain Mark Mendonca.

Dressed in full personal protective equipment, the students gathered tools and hiked into a simulated “fire” area, received a briefing and dug fire lines. They followed a designated escape route to a deployment zone, where each student deployed a practice fire shelter. A debriefing back at the school assessed what they learned.

“The students learned more in this course than just the science of wildland firefighting,” Baldwin said. “They learned about the hotshot’s core values of safety, duty, respect and integrity. They learned about hard work, team work and personal development. And they learned the importance of physical fitness.”

Seventeen-year-old Franco Casas of Los Angeles said he was inspired to take the class by Carrillo’s experience with the Alpine Hotshots.

“(The) class gave me a different perspective. I thought all fires were bad, and you just put them out. But then we learned about fire in the ecosystem,” he said.

Casas, who said opportunities are rare back in his L.A. home neighborhood, wants to pursue becoming a hotshot. “It’s a dangerous job, but it’s challenging,” he said. “They train like they fight, and it’s always safety first.”

For 19-year-old Jeremy Coles, the course taught him a lot about what it means to be a leader.

“Working with the Alpine Hot Shots encouraged me to be more on top of my game with life skills and working as a team, being a leader to make class smooth,” said Coles. “Meeting people from RMNP opened up doors for my future.”

The mixture of classroom teaching, field exercises and hands-on science kept the students engaged.

Student Valentina Ramirez, who is from the same East L.A. neighborhood as Cerda, said the class went well beyond her expectations. “I just thought we’d hear from (hotshots) about their experience,” she said. “I didn’t know we’d get to use their tools, and even the fire shelter. I didn’t know how dangerous firefighting was. I definitely have a greater appreciation for what firefighters do.”

For Eagle Rock instructor Jon Anderson, “Fire!” is a great example of the opportunities Eagle Rock has with Rocky Mountain National Park. “It’s good for diversity, and the internships and experiences for many of the students have been life-changing,” he said.

Eagle Rock School was founded on a vision that a school could improve the lives of young people by promoting community, integrity and citizenship. The school targets students who have not been successful in more traditional settings and also offers adults professional development opportunities to help strengthen schools both­ locally and nationally. The American Honda Education Corporation was founded as a nonprofit corporation in February 1991, and funds Eagle Rock School.

[Submitted by Traci Weaver and Holly Nickel ]

Reprinted from the National Park Service's "The Morning Report," July 17, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Food for Thought - Leadership Is...

"My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence." ~ General Montgomery

"My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence." ~ General Montgomery 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Authors of Our Own Lives - In the Space of Hard Choices

"Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition, that the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out, and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are." ~ Ruth Chang

 In Leading in the Wildland Fire Service, we state: "Leaders often face difficult problems to which there are no simple, clear cut, by-the-book solutions. In these situations, leaders must use their knowledge, skill, experience, education, values, and judgment to make decisions and to take or direct action—in short, to provide leadership."

Wildland fire leaders are required to make hard decisions--decisions that affect others. Knowing what makes a decision hard and how to manuever within the decision space requires a leader to reflect upon themselves, to know their values and how their "normative power" creates reason.

Take a moment and watch Ruth Chang's video "How to Make Hard Choices" TedTalk video.

Video Highlights

  • Understanding hard choices uncovers a hidden power each of us possesses.
  • In a hard choice, one alternative is better ins some ways, the other alternative is better in other ways, and neither is better than the other overall.
  • Hard choices are hard not because of us or our ignorance; they're hard because there is no best option.
  • We unwittingly assume that values like justice, beauty, kindness, are akin to scientific quantities, like length, mass and weight.
  • Each of us has the power to create reasons.
  • When alternatives are on a par, the reasons given to us, the ones that determine whether we're making a mistake, are silent as to what to do. It's here, in the space of hard choices, that we get to exercise our normative power, the power to create reasons for yourself... 
  • People who don't exercise their normative powers in hard choices are drifters. Drifters allow the world to write the story of their lives.

Hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition. - Ruth Chang
Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper

Monday, August 11, 2014

Food for Thought

"Earn your leadership every day." ~ Michael Jordan

"Earn your leadership every day." ~ Michael Jordan

Friday, August 8, 2014

Ruby Mountain Hot Shot Crew Wins BLM Fitness Challenge

Ruby Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew

The Ruby Mountain Interagency Hot Shot crew was recently awarded the BLM Interagency Hot Shot Crew Fitness Challenge Trophy for having the crew with the highest average physical fitness score of 11 crews across the nation…

The purpose of the BLM National Fire Operations Fitness Challenge is to create a system that measures an individual's level of fitness, help them create goals, track their fitness improvements and provide recognition for individual efforts. The Ruby Mountain Hot Shots scored an average 312.6 points with the top score belonging to Tim Hart with 381 points.

Ruby Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew

The IHC Fitness Challenge Trophy was created to take fitness a step further and promote healthy competition between the BLM Interagency Hotshot Crews. The trophy features two full size Pulaskis with all 11 BLM Hotshot Crew's insignias etched into the handles, multiple placards for commemorating each year's victor and a hook for hanging the current trophy holders hard hat during the year of their accomplishment.

The test consists of four exercises: push ups, pull ups, sit ups and a 1.5 mile or 3 mile run. The individual is given points for each category which is then totaled and averaged for the crew. In 2013 – its inaugural year - the Midnight Sun Interagency Hotshots of BLM Alaska were awarded the trophy for averaging a score of 311 out of a possible 400 points.

"This award is a great accomplishment for the crew and it shows that our employees are dedicated to their fitness and setting the example for the fire community," said Ruby Mountain IHC Superintendent Craig Cunningham. "If you want to be the best, then you have to beat the best."

By: Lesli Ellis-Wouters, BLM Nevada

Reprinted from "The BLM Daily," July 22, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Honor Through Learning: Mann Gulch

Mann Gulch fire
(Source: Mann Gulch Staff Ride)
On August 5, 1949, 15 U.S. Forest Service smokejumpers and a Helena National Forest fire guard were entrapped by a spot from a wildfire about 20 miles north of Helena, Montana. The fire eventually burned almost 4,500 acres.

A lightning storm started numerous fires on the Helena District of the Helena National Forest on the afternoon of August 4. The Mann Gulch fire was detected at about 12:00 PM on August 5th on a day with record-breaking temperatures. At about 3:00 PM when the smokejumpers from the Missoula Smokejumper Base were circling the fire in a C-47 airplane the fire was estimated to be between 50 and 60 acres. The fire behavior at that time appeared fairly minimal and the jumpers expected to easily have the fire lined and under control by 10:00 AM the next morning.

The jumpers parachuted into a spot up canyon and at a lower elevation than the fire. During the time the jumpers gathered their gear and had a quick bite to eat the fire became more active. This inspired the foreman to get his crew down gulch so that they could attack the fire from the heel. Their approach was mid-slope on the opposite aspect from the fire, allowing the firefighters to keep an eye on the fire across the way. During their movement down canyon, a spot fire that was previously unseen on their side of the gulch made a rapid upslope and up-canyon run, cutting off their access to the anchor point. The fire overran and killed most of the firefighters. Two firefighters escaped by slipping through a small notch in the rimrock at the top of the ridge. The foreman lit an escape fire, an emergency survival technique the smokejumpers had not been trained in, in an effort to consume the fuels ahead of the approaching blaze. After trying unsuccessfully to convince his crew to enter the burned area with him, he then lay down in the blackened area as the flame front passed over. He survived.

Much controversy surrounded the incident with investigation into training, standard procedures, and safety practices. It received attention in the national media at the time and has continued to be of interest into current times:
  • The incident created interest in scientific study of extreme fire behavior and better methods of predicting potential blow-up fire situations. This interest resulted in the development of the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory.
  • It was one of the fires studied in the development of the Ten Standard Firefighting Orders.
  • There was speculation by some that the escape fire the foreman lit was the cause of the fatalities.
  • The incident received national attention and inspired a feature-length movie released in 1952 – Red Skies of Montana as well as an article in Life Magazine.
  • The story was researched and written about by Norman Maclean in Young Men and Fire.
Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper
The Mann Gulch fire scenario is woven into the L-580 Gettysburg Staff Ride. Reflect upon how leadership can be applied across cultures.

Reflection 1 – Wag Dodge’s Escape Fire during the Mann Gulch Fire:
You are the incident commander on a wildfire located to the east side of the Continental Divide in western Montana on August 5, 1949. You and 15 smokejumpers attack the fire. During the course of suppression, the wind picks up and causes the fire to cross a gulch and cut off your access to the Missouri River and a safe anchor point. You and the crew attempt a retreat up Mann Gulch; however, your route to the ridge top is hampered by rockslides, outcroppings, and steep terrain. The fire is burning above and below you and the crew. You order the crew to break their training and drop their gear—some do not hear or abide your command. You decide to do an unconventional tactic and light an “escape” fire and appeal to your men to follow you through the flames to the blackened area. Your men refuse to follow and retreat on at their own will. Thirteen men perish as a result of a burnover; two follow your fire’s edge to the ridge top and escape the flames.
Pickett's charge map
Reflection 2 – General Robert E. Lee’s Decision for Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg:
You are the general in command of Confederate troops near Gettysburg, PA, on July 3, 1863. You and your men have been engaged in combat for months, and are hungry, injured, and fighting friends and kinfolk. After days of fighting, Union troops have secured the high ground. You order 12,000 troops to open attack on the high ground contrary to military strategy and with great opposition from General Longstreet whose men have engaged in many battles, traveled a great distance and are tired. Longstreet does not believe in engaging the Union troops on the high ground, instead battling south towards making a direct attack on Washington, D.C. You believe you have more troops than the Union and can outlast them. Your artillery opens fire and the battle ensues, including an assault by Longstreet’s men. Nearly 7,500 Confederate and 1,500 Union troops lose their life in the campaign where you eventually retreat. You are heard to say, “It’s all my fault, boys. It’s all my fault.”

Things to Ponder:
Wag Dodge, a veteran fire leader, makes a decision to try an unproven tactic. His men question his model and fail to follow. He survives while most of his crew perishes. The model is adopted as standard operating procedure in wildland firefighting.

General Robert E. Lee, a battle-wise leader, fails to question his model. He survives, while Confederate forces take significant losses. The decision is deemed a mistake and forever analyzed by historians and future leaders.

  • Why did Lee’s men follow him?
  • Did either Lee’s or Dodge’s men understand their leader’s intentions?
  • How does fatigue, stress, and physical well-being affect decision making?

Other References for Digging Deeper

Friday, August 1, 2014

From "Cold Water" to "All In"

South Zone - Uinta Wasatch Cache personnel

Members of the South Zone of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest‘s are stepping up to take the the wildland fire leadership challenge as posted on the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program's Facebook page on June 11, 2014.

If you missed the challenge, here it is again:
We're "CALLING OUT" All Wildland Firefighters!
Cold water challenges have proven a great way to support local charities, many of whom respond in the aftermath of a wildland fire tragedy. The Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program (WFLDP) was created out of our tragedies "to promote cultural change in the work force and to emphasize the vital importance of leadership concepts in the wildland fire service by providing education and leadership development opportunities." 
Wildland firefighting is a dangerous job, and we owe it to our fallen to learn from their sacrifices and do everything within our power to ensure that everyone comes home. South Canyon and Yarnell were defining moments in our history. Cultivating a culture of followership where great leaders can emerge to create healthy organizations is paramount. Therefore, we are CALLING OUT all members of the wildland fire service to accept the IGNITE the Spark for Leadership Challenge. Leadership is ACTION, and we have set some goals that only you can help us reach: 
1) Identify a Leadership Advocate(s) whose job is to:
2) Help us reach roll right over the 5,000 Facebook follower milestone before "A Week to Remember, Reflect and Learn" from June 30-July 6. We know you can do it!
3) Help us increase our weekly blog followership by 10%. 
As we approach the anniversary of two organizationally changing events, we are CALLING OUT all members of the wildland fire service to IGNITE the Spark for Leadership and SHARE throughout their networks!
What We Are Doing to IGNITE the Spark

As the South Zone FMO of the Unita-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, I had the opportunity recently to engage the Northern Utah Regulars Type 2 IA crew in the 2014 National Reading Challenge as they were being mobilized to fires in Idaho. Although the majority of crew were resources from within the South Zone, firefighters from the North Zone and the BLM's West Desert District were invited to participate and readily accepted the book and the challenge.

As part of the challenge, each member of the crew was handed a copy of Lone Survivor. My leader's intent and reading assignments were then given to challenge participants.
  South Zone - Uinta Wasatch Cache personnel

This was also a good time to re-cap what we had accomplished and learned to this pointin our journey to build a resilient team, starting with the South Canyon Staff Ride earlier this season, to the recent Week To Remember conversations. Intra-module and individual learning is taking shape and headed in the right direction based off the talking points and topics discussed so far this season. We will get together again soon and go through the reading assignments to see what we have learned so far.
More to come soon….


Allen Briggs is the South Zone Fire Management Officer on the Unita-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
2014 Wildland Fire Leadership Campaign logo